Act I

Rafe raised his head from the pillows so he could see better. The bright sun shone through the open curtains, blinding him for a moment until he could turn and raise his arm to cover the overwhelming light and he watched as Paul held open the door and a shorter, graying woman hesitantly entered the room.

The overbearing antiseptic smell assaulted her senses - she knew that smell; it teased her nose every time she went to see Leo when he was at the VA.

"Who are you?" Rafe asked, not recognizing the older woman at first. Tilting his head, as he took in the woman in front of him and saw some resemblance; now that he thought about it, she kind of looked like an older version of his mother including her posture, and her voice was strong and confident.

"It's your abuela, Rafael."

A frown crossed Rafe's face. His abuela? His ma's mother? His grandmother? Now he was confused.

When Paul pulled up a plastic chair and gingerly placed the woman in it, Rafe noticed there was someone else who followed. He couldn't make out the woman; he'd never seen her before. Running a trembling hand through his curls, more from nerves than wanting to look presentable, he asked, "Paul, what's this about?"

Paul stooped and helped Rafe pull himself up in the bed. "Rafael Rivera. Meet your abuela, Carmen." He then turned to the woman standing behind Carmen's chair. "This is my ma, Sophia."

Rafe had heard stories, but he and his mother had never, ever really sat down to discuss the family. It seemed too painful for his mother so he just imagined what they all looked like; he imagined how it might have felt if he had known his family. So did this mean that Paul and he were...what?

Surprises were fine for kids, but he wasn't a kid anymore. Nine months in Afghanistan had jaded him. Here he had thought he couldn't see or hear anything worse than being locked up with a bunch of losers like him; but he was wrong. Prison was a cakewalk compared to the everyday struggle to survive in that inhospitable hell.

He jerked himself back to the present. Here sat the woman who had thrown his mother out of the house at 16, scared and pregnant. Pregnant. With him. How eerie was this? "We're related?" This was all he could think of asking. All three visitors nodded in unison.

"Mi nieto...I've only seen a photo of you," Carmen said, looking him over. "Your mother had a photo on her cell phone; you were much younger."

Rafe nodded his head in acknowledgement. "I'm twenty-one now."

"You have your mother's dark eyes and dimples."

"My ma's a beautiful woman," Rafe said as his eyes clouded over.

Paul brought bottles of water for everyone. Sophia, who had the dark eyes and chestnut hair of a Rivera, spoke. "Rafe, Paul is your second cousin." She may not be a Rivera but she had the same big dark eyes and thick flowing hair as his ma. He yearned for his mother.

Rafe struggled to make the connection. He knew his mother had a sister, Leyla and a brother, Leo. Was Leo married to Sophia? Is Leo Paul's father? The father who ditched him?

"So, Leo is the hothead?" Rafe smirked as Carmen looked sternly at Paul.

Paul let out a loud harrumph. "Hey, that's between you and me." He glared at Rafe who looked rather amused.

"Mijo, is that what you called your father?" Sophia messed Paul's hair, only to have him shirk back a little. "Impetuoso, you said so." As his mother continued to mess with his hair, Paul brushed her hand away. "Hey, I'm too old for that."

"Be lucky your ma is here," Rafe chastised him.

All eyes were on Carmen when she spoke. "Nieto, why don't you want to see your mother?"

Rafe wasn't sure he knew how to answer that question.

****

With Francesca tucked in for the night and Emma was on a sleepover at Jodie's, Olivia sighed. It was rare that Olivia allowed Emma a Sunday night sleepover, but she felt it would help Emma to keep up a familiar routine. Olivia wondered what 12 year olds did on a sleepover, as she had never asked anyone to stay over at her house when she was young because her mother could be so unpredictable. She knew what a sleepover entailed when Emma was eight, they'd watch, eat popcorn, then curl into sleeping bags on the floor and whisper about school, boys (ugh), and their favorite ice cream until the wee hours of the morning. Hopefully, they were still doing that. Hopefully, they weren’t smoking, or putting on too much makeup, or whispering about boys, or asking questions about…what did it mean when someone touched you without permission? A soft whimper escaped the anxious woman.

"What are you thinking about?" Natalia asked, seeing the worry lines etched across Olivia's forehead. Her partner was already in bed, her arms tucked under her head against the backboard.

"Emma, growing up too fast. Can we put a chastity belt on her until she's 30?" Olivia smiled as Natalia gave her a loving swat on the arm. "And deny a Facebook page? Seriously, Natalia. What Ava told us the other day, about her knowing about Jeffrey and what he did, makes my head and my heart hurt."

Natalia had already locked up downstairs, now she went through their room and closed the drapes, adjusted the screens to allow the flaccid breeze in, and turned on the ceiling fan. "Maybe the three of us should sit down and come up with a plan." She pulled back the sheet and light blanket; all that was necessary in the month of June. "Olivia, not that I'm complaining, but why don't you ever get our room ready?"

"Ready? For what, bed?" Olivia's asked, incredulously.

Natalia stood, hands on hips. "Yes, there's a lot of preparation."

"Not in my world. Shower, brush teeth, jump in bed. Find beautiful woman. Make love. Done."

"You are so not funny, Olivia Spencer."

When Natalia climbed into her side of the bed, the sheets still crisp and cool, Olivia gave her a big grin and picked up her hand kissing it tenderly. Natalia rested her head against Olivia's shoulder; she loved this time of the evening, when they could just be together. It had taken her so long to find this, this...bliss.

Olivia turned toward her capturing Natalia's lips in a torrid kiss. "Let's see. Showered." Her eyes danced.

"Check." Natalia flicked her wrist.

"Brushed teeth?"

"Check." Natalia snuggled a little closer.

"Jumped in bed?"

"Check."

Olivia dimmed the light. "Used my GPS to find the most beautiful woman in the world."

"Guess that's a check." Natalia loved when Olivia talked all mushy to her.

"Guess there is just one thing left to do, then...," Olivia said huskily.

On to the Afterdark

The full moon’s light, sneaking through a break in the curtains, created shadows over the two draped bodies in the bed. Resting in her favorite place, Natalia’s head lay on Olivia's shoulder; a hand placed on her chest directly over the fading pacemaker scar.

"I love you, Natalia Rivera." Olivia gently kissed her hair.

"Olivia." Sleep was claiming her, but she needed desperately to share this bit of news with her partner. "Olivia, I didn't need for you to touch me tonight." Natalia knew Olivia had wanted to give her pleasure but she didn't need the physical touch. When she noticed the hurt on Olivia’s face, she realized she needed to explain. "What you gave me tonight was intangible."

Olivia tucked another pillow under her head. "Yeah?"

"Umm, it's hard to explain. When you kissed me, the first time it touched me so deeply. That kiss sealed the open fissures in my heart. Since the kidnapping I haven't been whole, you especially know that." Natalia watched as Olivia pulled up onto the pillow to get a better view of her. What she was saying was crucial. "But that kiss was all about the future, the depth of our love. The depth of love I have for you and our family." Natalia brushed her thumb at the few tears gathered in the corner of Olivia's eyes. "God has reentered my life over the past few weeks, baby steps but I can feel it. That's why I believe that Rafe is safe and he'll come to me when he's ready, I believe that we will work out the issues with Emma, that our family will remain strong and thrive." She kissed Olivia on the cheek. "I have faith. And, I'm ready to move on."

****

Company was deserted; the breakfast crowd had ended and the mad dash for lunch was an hour away.

"Hey Buzz, haven't seen you around in a while," Doris said as she went behind the bar and poured herself a cup of coffee.

"Well, I'm spending much of my time making sure Frank gets the support he needs. He's still struggling." Doris laid a hand on his shoulder in solidarity. "My hip is giving me trouble. Might need surgery." He frowned and went back to filling the salt and pepper shakers.

"Hey, Buzz...," Blake said as she came through the door like a whirlwind. "Guess what?" She dumped her bag and other paraphernalia behind the bar. "One of the books..." She caught Doris's eye for the first time. "Oh. hey, Doris. I didn’t see you at first."

"You seem all excited about something? I'm sure it's not me." Doris meant it as a joke, but Blake gave her a cold stare.

"Don't say things like that. Don't demean yourself." Blake said with determination and Doris threw up her hands in surrender.

Excitedly, Blake spoke to both of them. "One of the books I co-edited has been chosen for the New York Times Bestseller list. How about that?" Blake had continued with her publishing business even though Ross had hinted that she wouldn't have to work any longer now that he was back. Everyone in town knew that the twins were out of control, and Clarissa was entering her teenage years. Ross had insinuated that if Blake wasn't working two jobs, she could be a hands-on parent and a better disciplinarian. Blake had fired back that if her supposedly dead husband had left her better off financially, she wouldn't have had to work two jobs. Besides, putting the boys in boarding school was Ross's idea; that cost a bundle and they got expelled anyway. Blake had made it clear she had no intentions of giving up her career.

"Great news." Doris gently rubbed the small of Blake's back. "You're good, Blakey, really good." An awkward moment settled between them and Doris realized her actions, withdrawing her hand as if it had touched a hot poker. "Look, I have to run." Doris grabbed her briefcase. The words came out before she had a chance to put the brakes on them. "How about a drink to celebrate?" She held her breath.

Blake's eyes turned a deeper shade of blue. "I'd really like that."

Since Doris left the invitation open-ended, Blake took the initiative. "Tomorrow at Bistro Arles, off of route 4. Be there at 6:00."

****

The Grady Foley murder case had begun to effect the lives of many Springfield residents. Cyrus was still giving Mel the cold shoulder; he just couldn't understand how his lover could defend his brother's murderer, and that Phillip Spaulding was home on bail, preparing for his defense instead of remaining behind bars.

"Murderer is a strong word, Cyrus; be reasonable. You've already got the man convicted, sentenced, and rotting in jail for the rest of his life," Mel said in her defense. The prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Phillip murdered Grady Foley, and she did not think they had the evidence to prove it.

~~~

On the other side of town, Jeffrey and Ross huddled in the small conference room. Ross had painstakingly put together a scenario of what happened that fateful day.

"It certainly could have happened that way." Jeffrey bit on the edge of his pencil. "We need something more…"

~~~

Olivia had dropped Emma off at the mansion after school since Phillip was desperate to see his daughter after what went down at the mansion last week.

"Daddy!" Emma squealed as she jumped out of the car.

He picked her up and twirled her around a few times. She was getting heavier; it wouldn't be too long that he couldn't do that anymore. She was becoming a young lady.

"Em, why don't you see if there are any cookies in the kitchen?" Olivia ushered her towards the house.

"You want to get rid of me, huh? Grown-up talk?" Recognizing the dismissal for what it was, Emma sulked as she stalked off to follow the cookie crumb trail.

Olivia waited until her daughter was out of ear range before she turned to her ex-husband. "Phillip, you can't threaten Jeffrey over the rape." Olivia was defiant, pacing, her high heels clacking loudly on the pavement.

Phillip had seen her like this before, focused and resolute. She was a formidable woman when on a mission.

"It will be all over town, I don't want Emma to find out what that word means from some kid in the schoolyard." She was near panic when Phillip led her over to the bench at the edge of the garden. "And Ava! This will be devastating to her. Ava's trying really hard to face a future without this albatross around her neck." Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose. "He's her father, but their relationship is strained already."

"Olivia, Jeffrey may go through with the trial to save face, but the evidence is flimsy." Phillip squinted into the sunlight. "I'm sure it will all be okay."

"How do you know that? You can't know that. I don't care about Jeffrey's face, or whether you did or didn't murder Grady Foley. I care about my daughters!"

Phillip tried to console the furious woman, but she would have none of it. It had been a long time since they had words; he felt uneasy and a little sad about it.

Olivia picked up to leave. Her tone brokered no argument as she spoke, "You need to fix this." She left him with a stony glare.

Phillip stood dejectedly hands in pockets, staring at the tight derriere swaying down the walkway. Olivia Spencer in high heels and tight skirt was a sight to behold. He went somewhere he should not have gone. He went to the first time his eyes took in Olivia, the sway she held over him. Lust, love call it what you will. He couldn't resist the woman. He let out a low sigh, turned and walked dejectedly back towards the house.